Writer: Ricardo Sanchez & Adara Sanchez
Illustrator: Arianna Florean
WHAT IS IT?
A teenage girl combating social anxiety disorder enrolls in a School for Ninjas! Shy Ninja is a coming-of-age, all-ages graphic novel about ninjutsu, and learning how to front kick anxiety head-on.
Shy Ninja features a butt-kicking, female protagonist like the women of Totally Spies! and a (seemingly) wise mentor similar to the Karate Kid's Mr. Miyagi.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
High schooler Rena suffers from a severe social anxiety disorder, crippling her during any public social interactions. Following the encouragement from her mother, her therapist, and her online best friend Sidney, Rena halfheartedly submits an application for ninja school. Rena aces the online orientation tests with flying colors – much to her dismay.
Ninja school instructor Master Dysart informs Rena how her social anxiety has actually prepared her for practicing ninjutsu. Years of hiding in plain sight pays off as Rena quickly adapts to lessons. When Rena learns that her prodigious abilities align with an ancient Ninja prophecy, she works harder to fulfill her role as the legendary "Ghost" figure.
Will Rena's ninja skills help her conquer some of her struggles with social anxiety? Is Dysart telling the truth about Rena's mantle as "The Ghost"? Can she help restore the once-respected legacy of the Ninjas?
Ricardo Sanchez and his daughter, Adara Sanchez produce a comic that understands its characters and intent. Adara and Rick's collaborations work exceptionally as they succeeded in shaping the story beyond the creative bones of Adara's initial concept.
Animation companies need to be in contact with illustrator Arianna Florean as soon as possible, because her art style captures the motion and appearance of on-screen animation! Reading Shy Ninja gives the iconographic sensation of watching a Saturday morning cartoon erupting with action, movement, and an adorable stylized look.
Florean's colors also enhance the art's verve. An interplay of chromatic tones across the color spectrum and corresponding tints of shading facilitates the smooth cartoon-like imagery.
Tom Napolitano takes the helm with lettering duties. Lettering a large graphic novel script is no easy task, and Napolitano's approach to fitting all the dialogue comfortably within speech balloons works outstandingly.
Napolitano's typeface, boasting extremely legible kerning and rounded letter edges, also complements the animation feel of Florean's art.
Adara Sanchez's contributions provide an authentic portrayal of the adolescent experience heroine Rena undergoes, since Adara is a teenager herself.
In particular, dialogue between Rena and her mother comes across organically. You can almost imagine Adara and her dad writing these scenes and laughing about their own experiences with their parent/child relationship.
The Sanchezes show how Rena's social anxiety empowers Rena with the ability to hide in plain sight. Interpolating this conceit with Rena's propensity for ninja abilities furnishes Shy Ninja with incredible substance and subtext.
Conversations in the comic all portend future events with subtlety. Often, Rena's mom babbles on about her A.I. project, much to Rena's chagrin. Take note of the details in these discussions, because the Sanchezes weave this into the storyline quietly – like ninjas!
Apart from Florean's charming character designs and talent for conveying emotive personality, her environmental layouts are paramount to implementing a natural world for the characters to traverse.
The back matter in Shy Ninja shows the conceptual outlines for Rena's house and the ninja dojo that will make you appreciate Florean exhibits a dedication to realism in a comic where characters execute ninja maneuvers all over the page and panels.
While it would be easy to write a story incorporating the topic of social anxiety on a surface-level, the Sanchez duo offers a narrative packing substance. Social anxiety as a subject matter and how Rena conducts herself with the disorder is designated as Shy Ninja's narrative driving force.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Showing various facets of how Rena's social anxiety affects her in different settings is an important part of the narrative. But Shy Ninja suffers somewhat from feeling repetitive near the middle of the plot because of shifting repeatedly between primarily school, home, and the dojo settings.
The slower pacing permits ample time to showcase Rena's beautiful character growth, sacrificing the pacing of the main plot. The main action plot takes longer to reveal itself. Scenes could have been cut to better balance the story's narrative rhythm.
On page 72, Rena receives a device that allows "electronic countermeasures" during a fight. Toni tells Adara, "We’re ninjas, not Amish. Focus, Rena. There’s no do-overs." While this line of dialogue makes sense contextually, this "Amish" joke about electronics may fly over younger readers' heads.
Master Dysart informs Rena about Toni's compromised ninja mission on page 64. His dialogue reads, "Attacked. She employed a Goton-Sanjippo technique to escape." The use of "Attacked.", appears out of place in the sentence. Bolded lettering or a comma after "Attacked" to combine it with the following sentence would help the word flow.
Sidney's condition that confines him completely inside is never explicitly described. Rena and Sidney's relationship is a major part of the story, and it would have been nice to learn more about Sidney's character through their dialogue.
A few panels encounter large amounts of texts confined to overlapping speech balloons. The crowded nature of the text can be distracting, albeit, it only occurs in two noticeable instances.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Shy Ninja is exactly the kind of comic I wish I could have read growing up or even in my high school years. Even as an adult in my early 20s, I was immediately drawn to Rena and her difficulties coping with social anxiety in public environments – a relatable issue I still struggle with today. People without Rena's disorder can still identify with the situations she endures, such as navigating the pressures of high school and receiving unwanted attention during classes.
Unlocking and achieving your inner potential remains the reoccurring anthem in Shy Ninja. Despite the tribulations a disorder like social anxiety can inflict on individuals, especially as a teenager, the comic preaches a message of hope. Therapy is not only visible in Shy Ninja, but encouraged and helpful for Rena. Sports or social clubs like karate – or ninja school – are psychologically proven to aid those suffering from public anxiety disorders. Additionally, Rena's relationship with a boy who cannot leave his isolated home, but wishes he could, further communicates a hopeful theme.
Any reader young or old will empathize with Rena. Just try not to feel yourself cracking a smile as you witness Rena's personal character growth while excelling in her ninja performance. Shy Ninja proves accessible for any reader, and should be given to any kid who may feel hindered by social anxiety. And you are blessed to see some awesome ninja antics along the way!
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Teen Titans Go! #3 by Ricardo Sanchez, Amy Wolfram, Ben Bates, & Jorge Corona
End of Nations by Ricardo Sanchez, Yvel Guichet, & Carrie Strachan
Spy Hunter & Paper Boy by Larry Hama & Mac Rey
If you like the art:
Star Wars Adventures Vol. 2 by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, Delilah Dawson, Shannon Eric Denton, Alan Tudyk, Landry Q. Walker, Arianna Florean, Eric Jones, & Annie Wu
Marvel Action Black Panther Vol. 2 by Vita Alaya & Arianna Florean
Quincredible by Rodney Barnes & Selina Espiritu
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Ricardo Sanchez – Writer (@rickzilla)
On the Rise: Rick is a writer of both comic books and mystery novels. His projects include comic titles such as Legends of the Dark Knight, Teen Titans Go!, and Boo the Dog.
Both his Elvis Sightings Mystery book series and his Kickstarter comic (later picked up by IDW), A Hero’s Death has received rave reviews and acclaim.
Some of his hobbies include maintaining a vintage toy blog, driving ’70s muscle cars, and shopping year round for Halloween decorations. He is also a toy buff and life-long Scooby-Doo fan!
Adara Sanchez – Writer (@WeirdSquidKreature)
Adara is currently a sophomore in high school.
She is a talented illustrator (check out her Instagram!) creator, and cosplayer.
Dream Team: Along with creating the concept & co-writing Spy Ninja with her father Rick, she also shares a writing credit with him for the Dynamite’s Boo, The World’s Cutest Dog comic book.
Arianna Florean – Illustrator (@only__flo)
Arianna attended an art-curriculum high school, followed later by graduating from the Academy of Visual Arts and New Media in Rome as a Comic Artist and Colorist.
Multitalented: She started her career at an animation studio in 1997, then transferring over to the comic industry in 2004.
Some of her credits include being a Pencil Artist/Cover Artist for Disney America, Marvel, and IDW titles Star Wars Adventures, Black Panther, Super Hero Adventures, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Zootopia, Toy Story, and Frozen.
Tom Napolitano – Letterer (@TENapolitano)
Tom is a freelance comic book letterer who has worked for DC, Lion Forge, Vault, and Humanoids comics publishers.
He is also a lettered for Andworld Design Studio.
His lettering work appears in comics such as Dark Nights: Death Metal, Batman: Last Knight on Earth, Justice League, Fearscape, Chasing Echoes, Quincredible, Superb, and Taproot.
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